July 17, 2015 marks the one year anniversary of the passing of visionary artist and former CAVS Director, Otto Piene (1928-2014). We honor Piene’s memory, his incredible impact on MIT, the field of art, and the world at large.
Piene joined the MIT community in 1968 as the first international fellow of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). In 1974, he succeeded CAVS founder György Kepes as director, remaining until his retirement in 1994. During his twenty years as director, Piene furthered the mission of CAVS and made a commitment to “art on a civic scale” by creating events and exhibitions for the MIT community and local and international publics. These elaborate artistic celebrations encouraged cultural and societal cohesiveness through Piene’s innovative interdisciplinary approaches to art. Piene created several “civic scale” exhibits around the city of Boston and beyond, including Boston Celebrations I-II (1975-76, Boston, MA), the Arttransition conference (1975, Cambridge, MA), and Centerbeam (1977-78 Kassel, Germany and Washington, D.C.). As the scale of Piene’s projects grew larger, his influence prompted the expansion of CAVS, which developed a graduate program in 1976 that awarded a Master of Science in Visual Studies within the School of Architecture + Planning.
Piene’s work can be seen in nearly 200 museums and public collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Nationalgalerie, Berlin; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge. He represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1967 and 1971, and exhibited at dOCUMENTA in Kassel, Germany, in 1959, 1964, and 1977. Piene’s Centerbeam (1977), a pioneering multimedia kinetic sculpture performance created with a team of CAVS artists for dOCUMENTA6, was later installed on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Throughout the 1960s, Piene experimented with multimedia performances, inflatable sculptures as well as with light, smoke, fire, and air. For the closing ceremony of the 1972 Munich Olympics, Piene created Olympic Rainbow, a “Sky Art” piece. “Sky Art”, as Piene described it in 1969, allowed him to use landscapes and cities as the focal point of his work with the sky as a canvas; this became a characteristic aspect of his practice.
In July 2014, Piene’s final installation, “The Proliferation of the Sun,” opened at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The work was originally conceived in 1967 at the Black Gate Theater in New York and performed in Nuremberg, Cologne, and Dortmund later that year. The work consists of colorfully shimmering shapes on over a thousand hand-painted glass slides, which are projected into the open exhibition space, resulting in what Piene called a “poetic journey through space.” Piene passed away shortly after the opening of the installation on July 17, 2014.
On November 8, 2014, a memorial celebration for Otto Piene was hosted by the School of Architecture + Planning, the Program in Art, Culture and Technology, MIT Museum Studio, and Fellows and Alumni of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies.
For more information about Otto Piene’s work at MIT, visit the CAVS section on our website.